Friday, April 10, 2009

Flipped Off

Joke Structure Discussion Post 1 (Wherein We Kill the First Frog)

Comedy is generally based on the creation or pre-existence of an expectation and then BAM! The joke hits us delivering to us something different than our expectations. Our minds make the jump and we fill in the gap with laughter, convulsions, and occasionally guffawing, though this is not recommended for mixed company.

There are patterns to jokes and their construction and, since I've never really heard or read anyone point these out, part of a regular feature of this blog will be do so. This is done with the caveat, as one writer put it, that analyzing comedy is like dissecting a frog. You may discover something but in the process likely kill the frog.

The "flip" is a simple joke to create. The two key words of a familiar phrase are reversed. Playing on the conventions of the cliche' or accepted phrase, the comedy writer can get a laugh.

Examples, upon meeting the playwright Samuel Nathaniel Behrman after his "farewell" party, George S. Kaufman quipped, "Ah, forgotten but not gone."

Oscar Wilde was fond of these joke structures. His most famous version, "Work is the curse of the drinking classes."

So, to examine Wilde's masterpiece closely (and this always got Oscar into trouble), the common phrase is, "Drink is the curse of the working classes." Wilde, being the clever chap that he was, flipped the two key words from the common phrase and created a great joke.

Try this joke structure in your own writing and you, too, will be on your way to comedy glory, fame, and fortune.

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